Since I started diving in 2009 I have been to many different dive shops all over Europe and Africa. Some of the best ones have made the whole process of checking-in, collecting equipment and diving completely painless. Others, I have even questioned why I should dive here. Here is a run-down of things that I think a good dive shop should have.
This is the first port-of-call for most people. A nice clean and well laid out website is what I am looking for. An up-to-date price list. A list of dives, and what the requirements for them are. Local activities for non-divers. Ways to contact the dive shop. Directions to get to the dive shop by, both, public and private transport.
They should be able to answer all your questions in a reasonable about of time. Email responses within 48 hours.
This is important, and you don’t normally find this out until you actually get to the dive shop. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest piece of kit, but it must be serviceable and in a usable fashion. Wetsuits with holes in the knees, regulator hoses that have leaks, a lack of lead weights, are not inspiring and may just put someone off coming to your dive shop again.
The staff should be knowledgeable and should be helpful to divers. Obviously they should be qualified and they shouldn’t run after us like they are waiters. They should follow the correct procedures for the licensing body; it helps to make better divers of us all and it reduces risk. They should give clear and concise briefings. Make sure that everybody has enough weight to descend.
Having a variety of different dive sites available for divers of different abilities is a big plus. Also, having dive different dive sites that can be utilized if the weather conditions change.
This weekend I had a terrible experience at a dive shop. Their website was awesome. It listed the dive sites, what skill level was required to dive them, the maximum depth, the average time of a dive there and what there was to see. The communication was superb. When I emailed them they gave me lots of information about the dives, the cost and the different options for beginners (we had thought to take some DSDs with us but we didn’t in the end). We had tried to go diving with them the weekend before, but the sea had been turbulent during the week meaning that all the silt had come up – they emailed and called me to say that they were cancelling the dives. The dive shop was looking good.
We arrived at the nearby train station and followed their directions to get to the dive shop. Unfortunately, our path was blocked by works on the beach so we followed the main road. No biggie.
The check in was relatively painless but no details of ours were taken. Who would they contact if we were struck by DCI? Then came the equipment. It took us almost an hour to get the equipment. We had to keep asking for regulators, fins, boots. It seemed like we had to ask 3 or 4 times for each item of kit. Finally, we got it all sorted.
The briefing for the first dive was non-existent. There was no explanation of what was going to happen on the dive. We learnt a lot about the history of the area and what we were going to see but there was no plan to the dive. Alarm bells were starting to ring. We decided to continue with the dive, seeing as we had come a long way to dive a few specific sites.
We all boarded the boat without much difficulty and set off to our anchor point (about 1km across the bay). Unfortunately my the inflater hose for my girlfriend’s BCD sprung a leak but we were able to borrow a spare and attach it. We entered the water, and expecting a weight check start to check my buoyancy, more or less all the divers descend leaving me and my girl friend on the surface. She had some problems descending due to being under-weighted so I went back to the boat and got an extra kilo for her. We then descended down into the 2m visibility and tried to find the rest of our group. Both dive leaders had gone off so we had to find the group on our own, no one had waited for us. The visibility was terrible and the other divers well all over the place, no one followed the order that we were meant to be in. We ended the dive 10 minutes early and went back to the boat.
After this experience we were quite disheartened. We had been looking forward to these dives for weeks and it seemed like they were just going to be a waste. We even considered not doing the second dive. However, we decided as we were there we would give them another shot. After my fourth regulator change (they were all needing repaired for some reason or another) we finally got a decent briefing. The two guys leading this dive gave a much better briefing and we were feeling more confident about this dive. It turned out that this dive was amazing. We really enjoyed it.
On our dive was a DSD. I spoke to him about the dive. He was ecstatic about it but complained that his masked had filled with water and that he didn’t know how to clear it. I then asked him about what skills that he had practised on the dive…none was the answer. I was shocked. My girlfriend had done her DSD the year before and had gone through a multitude of different skills before the guide took her for a tour of the bay we were in.
So in summation, although the communication was amazing, the website was detailed and the dive shop had won awards from PADI I don’t think I will use them again. There were too many things that went wrong on this trip and too many things that could have gone wrong. You really need to be careful.